Saturday, April 25, 2009


Alan and I are confused by this tattoo. We are not sure if it is correct or not, simply because we have never seen this idiom.

From the last three characters, we can sort of guessing this person wanted "death before dishonor". However, Chinese idiom for it would be:


凌辱 is used in both Chinese & Japanese to mean an insult, indignity, disgrace or violation, even to assault a woman. So we can sort of see how might imply "dishonor" and 不屈 does mean "fortitude" or "indomitable".

But we simply do not understand the grammar or syntax of 凌死不屈, since could also mean "pure; virtuous; insult; maltreat, encroach; soar; thick ice".

It simply sounds like the words "dishonor" "death" and "indomitable" run together.


  1. There are plenty of places in china where 宁 and 凌 would be pronounced identically; the L/N distinction gives a lot of Chinese some trouble.

    The tattooist may have got the idea for 凌死 from the phrase 凌迟, which refers to the so-called "death by a thousand cuts."

  2. IMHO, at first glance, my thoguht was just a simple character error and person actually wanted 寧死不屈..

  3. Just because they are pronounced the same doesn't mean they have the same meaning.

  4. Kevin's on the right track here. In several southern Chinese dialects the L and N are near homophones. I think what happened is that this man, or his tattooist, actually went through the trouble of asking a native Chinese speaker. Unfortunately for him, this native Chinese speaker wasn't so literate -- probably grew up abroad. The way I see it, this is a mistake only a native Chinese speaker with certain regional accents can make; they couldn't have found this phrase anywhere else.